The Girl She Used to Be by David Cristofano is about a woman who has been in the Witness Protection Program since she was a child. She and her parents witnessed a mob murder and testified against the Bovaro family. Every few years, she gets bored of her job, the town, her house, or her life, and she conjures up some false threat in order to get WITSEC to move her again. Each time, she takes on a new identity and a new job, never making any meaningful friendships or romances. Then one day, a man approaches her and calls her by her real name, the name that no one has called her since she was a child. Who is this man? Is she still safe? Was she ever safe? How did he find her?
My book club read The Girl She Used to Be and it got mixed reviews from the seven of us. The majority loved it - for the pace, the intrigue, and the love interest - but for some, it fell short. I am somewhere in between. Melody Grace McCartney, the main character, has issues. Who wouldn't after living as a stranger her whole life, always afraid, forever wondering if this day will be her last? Imagine living this way as a teenager - we get a glimpse of just how awful that time period was for her and her family. There were moments when I sympathized with Melody, but other times I wanted to smack her for feeling so sorry for herself. But then I would come across a passage like this one, and I would once again feel for her:
One of the worst parts of being in the Federal Witness Protection Program...is that you will never be any of those things you dreamed about as a child, unless your dream was of cold anonymity. You will never be a famous ballet dancer or an all-star shortstop. You will never be an Oscar-winning actor or a world-class journalist. You will never be a congressman, a judge, a CEO, a rock star.My heart broke for Melody when I read that.
You will never be.
The man who knows her by her real name is obviously the turning point for the whole book, but she finds herself kidnapped, and her reaction is not what any normal person would feel if she were in a car taking us to an unknown fate:
For the first time in twenty years I am not running. Because I am captured.Melody is a complex character, to say the least, but I am blown away that a man created this character so fully and honestly. I don't know how David Cristofano did it - he must have grown up with a lot of sisters or has an amazing relationship with his wife. Whatever it is, he got Melody right. Her character never felt forced or contrived.
I have never felt freer than I do right now.
I couldn't help but reflect on Melody's parents in this book. They chose this life for her, she was too young to have an opinion, yet she would never be able to escape and be her true self. Who would do that to their child? Maybe this is one of the reasons people don't snitch on the mafia.
Despite one scene which made me cringe a bit, I highly recommend The Girl She Used to Be. It wasn't one of my favorites, but I really enjoyed it. I think it's a great summer read, the pages will fly by, and you'll enjoy the possibly love story.
Hachette Book Group's The Girl She Used to Be page
Reading Group Guide
David Cristofano has earned degrees in Government & Politics and Computer Science from the University of Maryland at College Park and has worked for different branches of the Federal Government for over a decade. His short works have been published by Like Water Burning and McSweeneys. He currently works in the Washington, D.C. area where he lives with his wife, son and daughter. THE GIRL SHE USED TO BE is his first novel.
About the Book:
The Girl She Used To Be by David Cristofano
Paperback: 272 pages
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing; Reprint edition (March 10, 2010)
*FTC Statement: A review copy of this book was provided by the publisher.